Imagine sitting down at an eating establishment, ordering your meal and waiting for it while talking to a friend about the happenings of the day. Say it was a taqueria, because you have a penchant for Mexican food.
As you wait, a masked man walks through the door, yanks out a handgun and begins waving it around, barking orders to hand over your money. It doesn’t take much to realize the masked man isn’t Zorro or the Lone Ranger. It’s an armed robbery. Like it or not, your life is in danger.
How would you feel about a man a few tables down who, as the robber walked past to rob the next guy, pulled out a gun and shot the robber dead? Would he be a hero or a vigilante?
That’s what happened on Jan. 5, 2023, at the El Ranchito Taqueria on South Gessner Road in southwest Houston, according to KHOU-TV.
After the robber walked past a man sitting in one of the booths, the man got up from his seat, pulled out a gun, and shot the perp several times. The robber died at the scene.
Unbeknownst to the shooter, the robber’s handgun was a fake. Should that make a difference?
After the incident was made public, some people wanted the shooter — a 46-year-old man who has not been named — to be charged with a crime because he was a “vigilante,” KHOU reported.
According to KPCR, community activists and civil rights organizations came out against the shooter, a white man, and wanted him to pay for the death of the black man. Though they didn’t condone the actions of the perp, whom police identified as 30-year-old Eric Eugene Washington, the man who killed him had still violated the law. Is there a law against defending yourself in Texas?
Others called the man who killed the robber a hero.
A Texas grand jury seemed to side with the latter. They declined to file charges against the shooter.
In Harris County, all homicides are required by the DA’s office to be reviewed by a grand jury, according to KPCR. This allows members of the community to decide whether a crime was committed or not.
“This process ensures that members of the community, rather than the District Attorney’s Office, determine the appropriate outcome in all homicides in Harris County,” a statement from District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office said in a statement.
It was only after the robber was shot dead that his gun was discovered to be fake, according to KPCR. The robbery victims clearly believed it was real as the incident unfolded, or they wouldn’t have turned over their money.
Guns wielded by criminals are dangerous. What’s a citizen to do, cower down and hand over the money, hoping not to get shot? Or, if they happen to be legally armed, defend themselves and the innocent people around them?
Harris County grand juries are composed of 12 randomly selected residents who are tasked with reviewing criminal charges and deciding whether there is sufficient evidence for a case to go forward through the courts. If nine or more of the jurors conclude there is sufficient cause, they issue an indictment. If nine or more of the jurors conclude there is not sufficient cause, they can issue a “no bill,” clearing any criminal wrongdoing. In either case, the final decision rests with the jurors and not the prosecutors, according to KPCR.
These jurors didn’t feel the community needed to be protected from the man who killed the robber in the taqueria that night, so they set him free. Maybe they feel a little safer because of it.
Pablo Lopez Garcia, the owner of the El Ranchito Taqueria, is happy with the jury’s decision, according to KPCR. “We are happy that no charges were filed against him because he was defending his life and the lives of others. He didn’t ask to be in that position,” Garcia said.
Garcia said business at the taqueria has declined since the incident, though it was a year ago. “It’s still slow, especially at night. A lot of customers are afraid to come here. There’s a lot of people hanging around the restaurant at night,” he said.
Nevertheless, Garcia said he wanted to thank the man who shot the robber in his restaurant that night. “We are thankful for him and we hope he will return to the restaurant so we can say hi,” he said.
This looks more like a case of the mysterious stranger who comes in to clean up a town than a vigilante on the rampage.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.